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BIKE GIVEAWAY A HIT AT VAFB : Many of the kids who got new wheels have parents deployed in Iraq or ... - page 3 / 3

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around after a ride drinking beers and talking.

"A couple of the guys in the group were in the military, or their dads were in the military and we thought, 'Why not do something for vets?' " Mr. McConnell explained. "That's what it is about this group — someone comes up with an idea and it doesn't go to waste."

Mr. McConnell said the $6,000 for the three custom bikes was raised among club members.

"We've done something unique, but it happens all the time in Lompoc," he said.

Dr. Kelli McSwan, a neuropsychologist at Loma Linda, said the exposure to the custom bikes helps the wounded veterans learn that there are still athletic things they can do. One bike will remain at Loma Linda, enabling a variety of veterans to test it out and learn how to use it.

"There's such a sense of freedom," she said about the bicycles.

On Saturday, Vietnam veteran Jim Daniels, a Desert Hot Springs resident, arrived in Lompoc bearing a prosthetic leg designed with the American flag. Since his injury in the war, he endured 18 surgeries and three total knee replacements.

"Over the last five years, the pain has been unmanageable," the 60-year-old said.

Thirteen months ago, he had his leg amputated. He has missed taking bike rides at the beach with his wife, he said.

"I tried a regular bike a month ago and couldn't do it," he said, noting his lack of leg movement to allow pedaling. "This is going to be great. My wife and I used to ride all the time. Now we can ride together."

The other recipient, a young soldier in his 20s, was injured in Iraq by a mortar round and lost both his legs. He was not able to make it on Saturday.

"He's gone through extensive rehab, but he didn't think one of these things (bikes) was possible ... We want to see veterans excited, especially when they've been through so much. It's so exciting to see them get something like this."

The new bikes, Dr. McSwan said, will enable the men to have more control over their own bodies.

"So much has been taken from them," she said. "They hear what they're not supposed to do, or what they can't do. It's neat to say 'This is something you can do.' It's also a sense of empowerment, to let them go fast, to feel the wind, to be able to work up a sweat."

e-mail: nwallace@newspress.com

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